Friday, May 20, 2011

Women and the V-Word

Photo by Sean Kirkpatrick
I've recently had some powerful womanly experiences. No, not birth or anything having to do with my reproductive cycle (well sort of), but I have been attending some pretty interesting woman centered events lately. One such event was a performance of the Vagina Monologues by Filipina Women in San Francisco. Those of you that know me know that I performed in Yoni Ki Baat, the South Asian Vagina Monologues a few months ago. You can read the post about it here. I attended the Filipina women's performance because my friend Nwe was being awarded by the organizers for her activism work and I also attended to experience another Vagina Monologues; this time as a member of the audience.

It was interesting.  The show that I was involved with though inspired by Eve Ensler's piece, was sort of its own thing. The participants in Yoni Ki Baat either wrote their own pieces or read the pieces that others had submitted. The show I recently attended however  presented pieces from Ensler's original performance of the Vagina Monologues, read and performed by various women on stage. It was sort of cool to see and experience the different versions of the Vagina Monologues. I never saw performances of Ensler's original play and for some reason I was surprised that a lot of it was literally about VAGINAS and what vaginas did, or wanted to do. I was a bit shocked. As liberal as I'd like to think I am, I grew up in a conservative Bangladeshi Muslim household. Sex was forbidden, boys were forbidden, and for a good chunk of my life, I believed that even thinking about boys was forbidden. So yes, the vestiges of this upbringing can still hold strong. There was a session of faking orgasms onstage, talking about what your vagina would wear, monologues against shaving and tampons and so on. My poor friend who was being awarded was a little taken aback. She also comes from a conservative background, being Burmese and raised in Bangladesh.  She had invited various members from her conservative Burmese community to attend the show. To say it was a shock to her and community members in attendance is an understatement, as she stood on stage a bit dazed with a huge plaque that read "Vagina Warrior". 
Photo by Sean Kirkpatrick
But the show is supposed to be shocking and empowering, right? Honestly, this is where I think my dual background comes out. I am Bangladeshi American after all. The American, westernized part of me understands the rhetoric behind this play: the pushing of buttons, the reclaiming of "Vagina". But the Bangladeshi, Barisal/Sylheti village part of me is secretly uncomfortable and well, a little lost about what all of this means, even though I am a feminist who strongly supports and hopefully embodies woman power and equality. I saw the gorgeous woman on stage in all of their diverse glory and loved it, while the other part of me didn't get it, thinking "can we talk about women's stories and issues without bringing up sex organs?".
Seriously though, you go girl
(photo by Sean Kirkpatrick)
Maybe that's controversial, I might get slack for thinking this way, but I'm being honest about my thoughts and the duality of my perspective. What Eve Ensler is accomplishing with her V-Day project is truly amazing and I am so inspired by the work she does. I do wonder though how women in other countries, especially more conservatives countries, react to the idea of talking about vaginas in an open way. When I told my mother that I was performing in something called the Vagina Monologues. She said "tsssk, in this country, they talk about things so openly."

However being "closed" does not equal oppression, not always, just like being open does not always  imply freedom. For my mother and her cultural upbringing, keeping intimate things, well intimate, held it's own power, something that didn't need to be out there for everyone to know.

Which brings up a bigger debate, where some may look at scantily clad women and the constant portrayal of women in media as sexual objects and think that they are being oppressed, while others may look at women who cover up as being oppressed for not being able or being comfortable to show off their faces or bodies.

For me, I think that the vital element in all of this is CHOICE. If I choose to wear a short skirt because I love it, then let me be. If I want to wear a hijab because I want to, then that is my choice as well. The complication may come about when we think of what affects our choices. Society? Men? Media? Culture? Patriarchal hierarchies? All of the above? What does choice even mean....arrgghh my head hurts and this post is going on for much too long.

I have no conclusion, I want to do what makes me happy, what makes me feel good inside. Maybe for me, it's not talking about my vagina, but also respecting the idea that others may do this and that feels great for them...and that it may not feel so great for other women and that's also okay.

CHOICE, a simple idea, but it can be a complicated concept in the real world. I  hope that women can at least have a choice, and be happy with the paths they choose. Maybe that is what the Vagina Monologues is really about, because unfortunately women today around the world, and in this country are being denied choices: Wisconsin, Tennessee Try To Pull Planned Parenthood Funding

and are being denied choices
Woman's 'Honor' Killing Sparks Outrage In West Bank

and are being denied choices